SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now, from the strains of BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, a little melody that says to us, time for sports.
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SIMON: Super Bowl LII - oh, wait. These are probably Roman numerals. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots make their ninth appearance in 18 years - never been a run like this in sports - versus the LA Rams and Jared Goff, who will be the youngest quarterback in a Super Bowl since Tom Brady 17 years ago. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. Tom, thanks for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Wouldn't miss it. The...
SIMON: Pats are slight favorites. Bill Belichick's strength as a coach is identifying what an opponent does best and then have them not do it. What's he going to do to the Rams?
GOLDMAN: I've been waiting for him to text me. So far, nothing. But I will say this.
GOLDMAN: It's a real challenge for him because there is no real key to LA's offense. You've got two great runners now, with the late-season addition of C.J. Anderson to go with all-pro Todd Gurley. There are three great wide receivers. Who do you decide to shut down between them? You've got two really good tight ends. You've got a very young but very good quarterback in Jared Goff.
And then, Scott, if the Patriots' defense does hold LA and they force a punt, Johnny Hekker is the best punter in the NFL. And he's a former high school quarterback...
SIMON: Oh, my.
GOLDMAN: ...Who's a bona fide threat...
GOLDMAN: ...To throw in a fake punt. So Belichick has had two weeks to figure out something. And we assume he's concocted something ingenious. But the Rams' offense may simply be too much to contain.
SIMON: And what about their defense? Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle - he's going to try and make Tom Brady - he's going to make him play the game from his book, right?
GOLDMAN: You know, it's totally unfair to distill a football game with all its working parts down to two opposing players. But I think this matchup is key. Today's NFL is about passing and defenders trying to disrupt the passer with a premium on speed.
Brady is a master at getting rid of the ball quickly - about 2 1/2 seconds on average from snap to throw. Aaron Donald is a master at getting to quarterbacks quickly. So can New England's very good offensive line contain Donald? If so, the Patriots have a much better chance for success. If not, advantage Rams.
SIMON: Tom, I wait all year to ask you this question.
SIMON: Who do you like in the Puppy Bowl?
GOLDMAN: Oh, I'll go Team Ruff, which is playing Team Fluff, of course...
GOLDMAN: ...In Puppy Bowl XV. They're, as you know, playing for the Lombarky Trophy.
GOLDMAN: And Scott, I like Emmitt on Team Ruff. He's a 15-week-old Australian cattle dog-Boykin spaniel mix. He holds the record for the most paw-sessions in the league.
SIMON: OK. I'm going to go with Clara, who's a corgi on Team Fluff.
GOLDMAN: I love it.
SIMON: But what about the - what do you call it - Super Bowl?
GOLDMAN: Well, here's what I've been blurting out when anyone asks. I can't bet against Belichick and Brady. And since I'm always wrong with initial predictions, that means the Rams are going to win. So there it is. I'm picking LA. Sorry, LA.
SIMON: All right. I'll say Pats by six. I do want to ask about Lindsey Vonn - announced her retirement at the age of 34 - 20 World Cup titles, three Olympic medals. I was staggered in her statement when she said, my body is broken beyond repair. She's paid a steep price, hasn't she?
GOLDMAN: She has an injury list almost as long as her list of victories, Scott - knee surgeries, concussions, nerve damage, broken bones. Still, through all that, she became one of the greatest ski racers ever, woman or man. Her 82 World Cup wins put her second on the all-time list, behind Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark with 86. She will compete this coming week at the World Championships in Sweden in the downhill and super-G. And then that'll be it for a brilliant career.
SIMON: Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.
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